FRIEDRICH, Caspar David
(b. 1774, Greifswald, d. 1840, Dresden)

Cross in the Mountains (Tetschen Altar)

Oil on canvas, 115 x 110 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

If nothing more were known of the painter, this painting, the so-called 'Tetschen Altar' would command attention for its boldness in creating a devotional image from the materials of landscape. It is both the first masterpiece of one of the greatest Romantic landscape painters and a manifesto for the art of landscape itself. It exemplifies two important achievements of early Romanticism: the elevation of nature to a kind of religion, and of landscape to equal or surpass history painting.

The 34-year-old painter was inordinately proud of the work. It was the largest he had painted so far, in a medium in which he was still far from proficient, and he had designed the frame himself - a Gothic arch with the eye of God and the wheat and vine of the Eucharist. He had intended the picture as a gift to the Swedish king Adolphus IV, in recognition of his resistance to Napoleon, but was persuaded instead to sell it to Count von Thun-Hohenstein for his castle in Tetschen, Bohemia. With its splendid frame it was transformed from political gesture to religious image, but still it remained a landscape. Nature itself was imbued with religious feeling.

The painting's carved frame is based on a concept by Friedrich, but was executed by one of his friends, the sculptor Gottlieb Christian Kühn.